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Expat: Women's True Tales of Life Abroad

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For generations, literary figures from Ernest Hemingway to Frances Mayes have fueled our fantasies about the romance of expatriate life. But it’s one thing to dream about living abroad and quite another to actually do it. In Expat a diverse group of women explores in vivid detail how the reality of life abroad matches up to the fantasy. Tonya Ward Singer craves a roasted c For generations, literary figures from Ernest Hemingway to Frances Mayes have fueled our fantasies about the romance of expatriate life. But it’s one thing to dream about living abroad and quite another to actually do it. In Expat a diverse group of women explores in vivid detail how the reality of life abroad matches up to the fantasy. Tonya Ward Singer craves a roasted chicken in China and must buy it alive and kicking. Karen Rosenberg reevaluates both her family’s Judaism and her own when invited to a Passover seder in a remote Japanese village. Mandy Dowd tries to teach the French about Thanksgiving. Emily Miller admits that in Italy she craves the Hollywood entertainment she generally deplores when on U.S. soil. Tall and fair, Meg Wirth tries hard to blend in, in Borneo—to no avail. Expat taps into the bewilderment, joys, and surprises of life overseas, where challenges often take unexpected forms and overcoming obstacles (finding Drano in Ukraine, shrimp paste in Prague) feels all the more triumphant. Featuring an astonishing range of perspectives, destinations, and circumstances, Expat offers a beautiful portrait of life abroad.


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For generations, literary figures from Ernest Hemingway to Frances Mayes have fueled our fantasies about the romance of expatriate life. But it’s one thing to dream about living abroad and quite another to actually do it. In Expat a diverse group of women explores in vivid detail how the reality of life abroad matches up to the fantasy. Tonya Ward Singer craves a roasted c For generations, literary figures from Ernest Hemingway to Frances Mayes have fueled our fantasies about the romance of expatriate life. But it’s one thing to dream about living abroad and quite another to actually do it. In Expat a diverse group of women explores in vivid detail how the reality of life abroad matches up to the fantasy. Tonya Ward Singer craves a roasted chicken in China and must buy it alive and kicking. Karen Rosenberg reevaluates both her family’s Judaism and her own when invited to a Passover seder in a remote Japanese village. Mandy Dowd tries to teach the French about Thanksgiving. Emily Miller admits that in Italy she craves the Hollywood entertainment she generally deplores when on U.S. soil. Tall and fair, Meg Wirth tries hard to blend in, in Borneo—to no avail. Expat taps into the bewilderment, joys, and surprises of life overseas, where challenges often take unexpected forms and overcoming obstacles (finding Drano in Ukraine, shrimp paste in Prague) feels all the more triumphant. Featuring an astonishing range of perspectives, destinations, and circumstances, Expat offers a beautiful portrait of life abroad.

30 review for Expat: Women's True Tales of Life Abroad

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jeanette (Again)

    I usually end up giving multi-author collections three stars because some are great and some are so-so. However, I think this collection merits four stars. The pieces are very well chosen and give an excellent overall view of what it might mean to try and be an expatriated American. There are twenty-two stories here, all by different female American authors who lived in places such as China, Borneo, Ukraine, England, Mexico, Denmark, Japan, and many other countries. Some of them don't really qual I usually end up giving multi-author collections three stars because some are great and some are so-so. However, I think this collection merits four stars. The pieces are very well chosen and give an excellent overall view of what it might mean to try and be an expatriated American. There are twenty-two stories here, all by different female American authors who lived in places such as China, Borneo, Ukraine, England, Mexico, Denmark, Japan, and many other countries. Some of them don't really qualify as "expats," since they only stayed a few months, but most of them stayed several years. If you have any glamorous, romantic ideas about moving to another country, this book will give you a more realistic view of what it can be like to be the outsider by virtue of culture and language barriers. Even with all the difficulties, most of these authors ended up staying much longer than they had intended, so there's hope after a period of adjustment!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Linnea McGowan

    My. Favorite. Book. EVER! Every story had something that I could relate to. I laughed AND I cried (often on public buses, thus confirming my "crazy white lady" status throughout Wuhan) and forced every person I knew to read it!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Robin

    I enjoyed this book about women living abroad, and what they learned about themselves and these other cultures. What's often most interesting is why one went to this particular place.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    Some of these were very interesting, but others made me sigh with weariness...My sister in law has lived abroad for almost all of her adult life, and the tales she writes are vibrant and alive. I was disappointed to find that most of these stories did not live up to hers. But a few did- and I sincerely enjoyed those. It just goes to show that I'm right in encouraging her to write a book about her experience!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    If you read it as an anthology of travel writing, you are likely to be disappointed with the inconsistent quality of the texts. But read it as a stack of postcards from expatriates from all around the world, each feeling thrilled, smitten, humbled and puzzled in their own personal ways, and you're in for a treat. Some of the voices are brave, some outright whiny, and some try hard to crystallize deep philosophical truths about identity or belonging or just list mundane details. And yet there is If you read it as an anthology of travel writing, you are likely to be disappointed with the inconsistent quality of the texts. But read it as a stack of postcards from expatriates from all around the world, each feeling thrilled, smitten, humbled and puzzled in their own personal ways, and you're in for a treat. Some of the voices are brave, some outright whiny, and some try hard to crystallize deep philosophical truths about identity or belonging or just list mundane details. And yet there is something comfortingly similar and relatable about all the joys and frustrations of expat life, regardless of the culture or continent.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    as i fantasize about a life on the road and journeys unending... this was a great book to read this summer while i was in europe. a strong reminder that of respect you should offer those that visit your own home-city, as well as pat-on-the-back for when you've found the courage inside yourself to explore well outside what you know; if even for a short, pristine amount of time. as i fantasize about a life on the road and journeys unending... this was a great book to read this summer while i was in europe. a strong reminder that of respect you should offer those that visit your own home-city, as well as pat-on-the-back for when you've found the courage inside yourself to explore well outside what you know; if even for a short, pristine amount of time.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Abigail

    Not particularly scintillating prose, but it was very interesting to see how other women talk about being abroad, the issues they brought up, the insights into homesickness and self-recreation. I like learning about places I haven't been to, and seeing what others think of the places where I have been. A quick read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mauri

    Very good. "In Search of Zorba" was like a punch in the stomach, even after three months. "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackboard", "When the Skinheads Start to Grow Hair, It's Time to Leave Town", and "Conversation in Denmark" were the best in my estimation, and are definitely recommended if you only have time to skim this at the bookstore.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Christi

    This book is full of short stories each illustrating their individual Expat experience. These heartfelt stories span different counties, occupations and life circumstances (married, single etc.). A must read if you are a woman about to take on an international assignment.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Brooke

    I read this book to psych myself up for my new life as an expat. I thought most of the stories were engaging, with only a few falling flat. A fun, light read that I will likely pick up in a year to see how much of these experiences ring true.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Eileen

    If you're interested in travel, culture clashes, and the lives of everyday women, then this is a great book for you. It'll definitely resonate more if you've actually spent some time living as an expat, but overall it's a poignant as well as entertaining book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ali

    I found a little bit of myself and my own experience in every short story I read. Good to know I am not alone during my time of reverse culture shock. Live abroad. Read the book. You'll understand.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    I found these stories to be very true to an expat experience, and actually somewhat depressing because so many of them deal with the isolation and lonliness of living abroad.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kristen

    Hit-or-miss. A couple good stories, a couple that are just fluff, and a few that weren't so great. But it's a nice, light read.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    The stories were so unique, with every authour revealing through personal experiences what home means to them. This was heart, soul, geography and storytelling at their best.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Maddy

    I had this book on my shelf for several months now. What inspired me to finally pick it up was that I found out recently I am going to be living in the UK for a month for a job training program. I wanted to read about other American women who have lived the dream of living in another country and see what their struggles were. Some of them were extreme going to countries where there were language barriers as well as vast cultural differences between the destination and our homes in America. This b I had this book on my shelf for several months now. What inspired me to finally pick it up was that I found out recently I am going to be living in the UK for a month for a job training program. I wanted to read about other American women who have lived the dream of living in another country and see what their struggles were. Some of them were extreme going to countries where there were language barriers as well as vast cultural differences between the destination and our homes in America. This book includes stories from women who went to countries on every inhabited continent in the world. I really liked how each of the writers had very distinct voices. They talked about all kinds of topics that you wouldn’t immediately think of when living in other countries. The only complaint for me was that many of these stories were decades old. While they were all incredibly good stories, they don’t reflect what traveling for an American woman today is like. It has been sixteen years since this has been published and I know the world is a very different place than it was in 2002 (and most of the stories are from way before that). Technology, politics, and changes in cultural attitudes might provide a more relatable collection for today’s travelers and ex-pats. I would be certainly interested to see an updated version of this collection or something similar. I gave this book 4.5 stars! There is so much good insight within these pages and the writers chosen were all engaging story tellers, which is rare in collections, I’ve noticed. I would suggest this book if you like travel or are interested in women’s lives and issues globally.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Tracey Gemmell

    This is a collection of thought-provoking true tales told by women from around the world. The writers featured tell candidly of their struggles to integrate into cultures, their reasons for going and, in many cases, their reasons for either staying or returning 'home'. The whole concept of home becomes an ever-changing mirage to many of them. As a long-time sufferer of 'hireth' (Cornish spelling) - a yearning for home with a deep sense of loss - this collection spoke to many of my experiences an This is a collection of thought-provoking true tales told by women from around the world. The writers featured tell candidly of their struggles to integrate into cultures, their reasons for going and, in many cases, their reasons for either staying or returning 'home'. The whole concept of home becomes an ever-changing mirage to many of them. As a long-time sufferer of 'hireth' (Cornish spelling) - a yearning for home with a deep sense of loss - this collection spoke to many of my experiences and feelings. Recommended for expats, travelers, and seekers of home.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Alli

    I appreciated that this book is not a collection of romanticized tales of wonder and beauty. Don't get me wrong, some of that is in there, but it also contains tales of hardship, loneliness, and frustration. As an expat (living in Jordan and now Argentina, since 2013), I appreciate the truth of these. Fascinating and humorous and sometimes sad.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    I can't remember where I first heard of this book, but I don't think I realized that it was published in 2002. So these stories are all about living abroad in the 90s or earlier. Most of them, honestly, were kind of boring, and I'd be way more interested to know about people's experiences living abroad now, for a lot of reasons.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Madeline

    Really liked this one. Good little mishmosh of women's stories from around the world.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Steve Castley

    An enjoyable read. This collection of short stoires are well crafted and certainly entertaining.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Andrea

    I loved this- I enjoyed mentally transporting to a new country in each story, and it definitely fueled my wanderlust. It's also just great to read travel stories by other women.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ruby

    I loved this book, and saw so much of my own travels in it. From not being able to find a blanket (in Korea it seems that even a small, light bedspread is going to cost at least $200), to ordering beer for breakfast because you can't read or imitate anything on the menu (or just because I was hanging out with hot Australian men), to being asked a million times why I am not married, why I am not in a hurry to get married, and why I don't have plans to have children. I loved this poem that was stuck I loved this book, and saw so much of my own travels in it. From not being able to find a blanket (in Korea it seems that even a small, light bedspread is going to cost at least $200), to ordering beer for breakfast because you can't read or imitate anything on the menu (or just because I was hanging out with hot Australian men), to being asked a million times why I am not married, why I am not in a hurry to get married, and why I don't have plans to have children. I loved this poem that was stuck in the Brazil section by Eliza Bonner: There is no heart to an onion. No inner seed, no final point to reach before you can say 'it's gone.' No juicy hard pit implying some kind of permanence or regeneration once each successive surface is peeled away When the layers are gone, there is nothing. The onion smell on your hands is an impermanent stain, a stinking reminder that stays with you for a short time before it too fades away.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    This was a great book and right up my alley. The women writer's/travelers collected in this book are refreshing, intelligent, and simply great story tellers. It's adventure, food, social elements, and life lessons, but not all the typical touchy feely stuff—more off the beaten path kind of tales about the twists and turns life takes when everything familiar around you ceases to be. Each story/essay is by a different woman who has taken a different path to traveling or living abroad. Some have sol This was a great book and right up my alley. The women writer's/travelers collected in this book are refreshing, intelligent, and simply great story tellers. It's adventure, food, social elements, and life lessons, but not all the typical touchy feely stuff—more off the beaten path kind of tales about the twists and turns life takes when everything familiar around you ceases to be. Each story/essay is by a different woman who has taken a different path to traveling or living abroad. Some have sold everything from their previous lives to start over, some are volunteering or working abroad for only a period of time, some are there by marriage or because a marriage didn't work out. Whatever the situation, they are each sharing stories about their unconventional lives and what it's like to be an independent woman, not just traveling, but trying to put down roots in new and foreign lands. It's an enjoyable and quick read with a lot of wisdom and good story telling. I'd definitely recommend it to anyone interested in women's issues or someone seeking out what it is like to live and travel abroad on one's own.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Brigit Zelenak

    As an expat myself, I'm drawn like a moth to flame when it comes to the stories of fellow wanderers. They make me feel like less of an anomaly (there aren't many people who move as often as I do) and serve to remind me that my trials & tribulations are nothing compared to some. Their stories amuse, strike a chord and inspire. In 'Expat - Women's True Tales Of Life Abroad' there are 22 such tales. Some I found stilted and a little difficult to get into. Others, such as 'Thirteen Ways Of Looking At As an expat myself, I'm drawn like a moth to flame when it comes to the stories of fellow wanderers. They make me feel like less of an anomaly (there aren't many people who move as often as I do) and serve to remind me that my trials & tribulations are nothing compared to some. Their stories amuse, strike a chord and inspire. In 'Expat - Women's True Tales Of Life Abroad' there are 22 such tales. Some I found stilted and a little difficult to get into. Others, such as 'Thirteen Ways Of Looking At A Blackboard', 'Never-Never' and 'Living The Dream In Paris' ended all too soon. Well worth a read...

  26. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    This is a collection of essays written by women who have lived in countries all around the world. I read it as an expat myself hoping to find some encouragement and common experiences. It has been a delight hearing the tales of women who tried to make other countries their home and the successes as well as struggles. Knowing that many of them felt and experienced what I have felt has made me realize that what I am feeling as an expat is totally normal. I encourage anyone interested in making a n This is a collection of essays written by women who have lived in countries all around the world. I read it as an expat myself hoping to find some encouragement and common experiences. It has been a delight hearing the tales of women who tried to make other countries their home and the successes as well as struggles. Knowing that many of them felt and experienced what I have felt has made me realize that what I am feeling as an expat is totally normal. I encourage anyone interested in making a new country "home" to pick up this book and get a first hand look into what living abroad will likely be like.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jeannine

    A great collection of women`s life writing about their experiences living abroad. I saw my life reflected in so many of the stories. Most of the stories were well written, interesting, poignant. Self-exploratory as the women used the opportunity to examine themselves, the new cultures they were living in and their home culture (s? They all seemed to be American but I`m not sure). Perhaps that would be the only downside to this collection; the pervasiveness of the assumed American identity on the A great collection of women`s life writing about their experiences living abroad. I saw my life reflected in so many of the stories. Most of the stories were well written, interesting, poignant. Self-exploratory as the women used the opportunity to examine themselves, the new cultures they were living in and their home culture (s? They all seemed to be American but I`m not sure). Perhaps that would be the only downside to this collection; the pervasiveness of the assumed American identity on the part of the reader was a little annoying but didn`t take away from my enjoyment of reading this book.

  28. 5 out of 5

    penelopewanders

    Collection of essays by women about living abroad. Generally interesting essays on the trials and tribulations of living abroad, with the inevitable new perspective on one's own identity. Interesting to note the recurring themes which so often centered around food. Although there were a number of "non-standard White Americans" represented, I began to yearn for a very different perspective - that of immigrants/expats to the USA, for example. Also made me feel like one of these days I should get t Collection of essays by women about living abroad. Generally interesting essays on the trials and tribulations of living abroad, with the inevitable new perspective on one's own identity. Interesting to note the recurring themes which so often centered around food. Although there were a number of "non-standard White Americans" represented, I began to yearn for a very different perspective - that of immigrants/expats to the USA, for example. Also made me feel like one of these days I should get to my own story...

  29. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    This book is wonderful! I truly enjoyed it not only because I could relate to the stories an as expat myself, but because they were well written by the women who authored each story. Each woman has her own take on what it means to be an expat and an anecdotal account of her time abroad to go with it. It gave me some food for thought and it also made me examine what it is exactly that I miss about the States and what I don't. It is a fast read and as the back cover said, "a must read" for any pot This book is wonderful! I truly enjoyed it not only because I could relate to the stories an as expat myself, but because they were well written by the women who authored each story. Each woman has her own take on what it means to be an expat and an anecdotal account of her time abroad to go with it. It gave me some food for thought and it also made me examine what it is exactly that I miss about the States and what I don't. It is a fast read and as the back cover said, "a must read" for any potential expats out there.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    I was always tired of reading travel writing when written by men discussing their lusts for the local women. I mean come on, this is not a point of interest in my travels. It's much more interesting and relevant to read about travel in regards to difficulties with adaptation to the local cultures' social constraints. This book really shows the different perspective of women in their experiences in adapting to life in foreign countries.

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